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xxxv – On Translating Afanas’ev’s – Collection of Folktales T his translation of A. N. Afanas’ev’s Narodnye russkie skazki is based on the 1984–86 edition, edited by L. G. Barag and N. V. Novikov and published by the academic publishing house Nauka in Moscow. Scrupulously edited and accurately presented in three volumes in the series “Literaturnye pamiatniki,” the Barag-Novikov edition continues the careful treatment Russian scholars have long accorded Afanas’ev’s work. I have endeavored to present a fair and accurate translation of the texts into English while fully aware of the inconsistencies in my work, which has taken place over a long period of time. Transliterations generally follow the system used by the Library of Congress, with a few exceptions. I have tried generally to translate the nicknames of some of the characters that appear in these tales into English, but I have not Anglicized their given, first names. Maria Belaia Lebed’ is thus Maria White Swan, Frolka -siden’ is Frolka the Dropout or Frolka Stay-at-home, Koshchei Bessmertnyi (in its various forms) is Koshchei the Deathless and the various heroines “Prekrasnaia” are “Beautiful.” Nikita Kozhemiaka is Nikita the Tanner and Kozma Skorobogatyi is Kozma Quickrich. A related problem is that all Russian nouns possess grammatical gender, which does not necessarily correspond to physiological gender. Thus, a fox in Russian (lisa) is grammatically feminine, even if the reference is to a male fox. English uses the words “dog” or “tod” for the male, vixen for the female. I distinguish this in the translations only when doing so is necessary to understanding the tale, as in Tale 1. Where English makes no distinction, as is the case for“dove,” I either distinguish the sexes through the appropriate pronoun, or try to make it clear in the context that in this instance the sex of that dove is important! I provide a glossary for Russian words that do not easily translate into English. Rusalka is not a Russian fairy, and a Russian bogatyr is often left a bogatyr and not translated into a more ambiguous warrior. Problems arise with the narrators’use of formulae common to the folk epic (bylina) and historical songs, but less frequently employed in the tales. Dobryi molodets might well mean merely“good youth or lad,” but in xxxvi h On Translating Afanas’ev’s Collection of Folktales the folktale it may mean“young warrior.”I have translated it severally. The same is true of a great many other epithets. These are easily understood by Russians as formulaic expressions from the oral poetry, but they often jar when constantly repeated in an English text. I have tended to translate them literally in some cases, and to substitute another phrase in others. Not all of Afanas’ev’s tales are in Russian. Some are in Ukrainian, a few in Byelorussian, and others in dialects transitional from one of the East Slavic languages to another. The language of the original is invariably noted in the commentaries. For Afanas’ev and for other writers in nineteenth-century Russia political and not linguistic considerations determined what a given language was officially called. There were officially no Ukrainian or Byelorussian languages; they were merely dialects of Great Russian, sometimes called“Malorossisskiy” (Little Russian), or West Russian in the case of what is now called Byelorussian. Afanas’ev edited the tales he received from many collectors of materials from throughout what was the Russian empire in the mid-nineteenth century. No doubt ecclesiastical and state censors dictated some changes, but he certainly“corrected” texts when he thought the language ungrammatical or, in at least a few cases, offensive. He also seems not to have hesitated to clarify passages he found obscure, and to edit his texts in other ways he deemed made the end product more accessible. Except in some few cases, his archive has not survived, and the extent of Afanas’ev’s editing is likely to remain an open question. The translator is thus faced with a vexing problem: How closely should the translator adhere to the published text? Should I modernize the nineteenth-century language? Should I popularize it with an eye to making it more attractive to the casual reader? These questions are hardly unique to translations from Afanas’ev. In his notes to his translations of the tales of the Brothers Grimm, written in 1986, Jack Zipes commented directly on the question: [T]he available translations are lacking on two accounts: either...


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